Students push themselves past the impossible in Rock Climbing

Jacob Brase | Executive Editor

Senior Wayne Zhu isn’t afraid to climb a 45 foot rock wall with no harness.

The senior and current rock wall employee at Lifetime knows he’s capable of climbing the wall. He’s done it before. Zhu knows the only thing that could cause him harm is himself, there is no other opponent he’s competing against. It’s just him and the wall.

Zhu is among the many students who see a distinct benefit that can be gained from Rock climbing, an activity that for most is nothing more than a carnival game. Zhu, who has never really participated in mainstream sports, said that climbing offers a different type of competition. 

“It’s literally a competition against yourself,” Zhu said. “If you don’t get to the top, you’re looking at the target saying ‘I wasn’t able to do that.’ You saw all the steps you needed to go and all the moves you needed to make but you physically couldn’t, or you mentally couldn’t.”

Senior Wayne Zhu boulders a route at Mosaic climbing gym.

Zhu began climbing three years ago with minimal experience, climbing beginner walls at Lifetime fitness center and the Mason Community Center. Zhu said his positive attitude towards seemingly impossible climbs allowed him to rapidly increase his skill. 

“I could see where I wanted to be at but I couldn’t get there, and that brought me back day after day.” Zhu said. “I don’t like seeing something in front of me and being told ‘you can’t do this.’ It drives me crazy.”

Zhu doesn’t approach climbing a wall without until he plans the specific moves it’ll take to get to the top. He said he approaches a wall just like any problem he would solve in school.

“Basically you’re just looking at a problem, analyzing it and breaking it down into parts,” Zhu said. “There will be spots with no rocks on the wall that seem impossible, but if you break it down into parts, it starts to make more sense.”

Senior Joe Kacur started climbing seriously after a backpacking trip in The Appalachian Mountains where he would stop consistently and attempt different outdoor routes. Similar to Zhu, Kachur said his approach to climbing is primarily mental.

“I don’t really focus on building strength when I climb,” Kachur said. “I look at each wall and just think ‘how can I approach each puzzle’. If there’s a certain hold I have an issue with, I’ll watch someone else do it, and usually there’s a solution that I would’ve never thought of.”

Along with the mental skills rock climbing brings, Kachur said he enjoys the thrill of climbing.

“I’m honestly kind of scared of heights,”    Kachur said. “Climbing outdoors is definitely very daunting. You definitely have a higher chance of falling than indoors. But looking down and seeing how high I am, it just gives me a huge rush of adrenaline. I’ve always found something fascinating about it.”

Senior Collin Hawkins, who will be a college athlete next year, is no stranger to adrenaline. Hawkins finds that adrenaline is something he actively seeks. He said rock climbing is just another outlet for him to express his love for adventure and thrills. 

“I’ve always been the crazy one in my family and friend group,” Hawkins said. “I tend to not think before I do things, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. If you’re crazy, you’ll get attracted to the more crazy sports, which is why I think I enjoy rock climbing so much. When most people climb, they’ll get really freaked out just 15 feet up the wall, but I just get extremely excited.” 

For Hawkins, the thrill is what keeps him coming back to the rock wall.

“When I climbed on Chimney Rock [in North Carolina], and I was a hundred feet up, it brought me a little bit of excitement knowing if I screw up, I could get hurt, so I tell myself ‘just don’t screw up’,” Hawkins said. “You get a good rush of adrenaline when you get a new route on a wall. Not knowing if you can get to the next rock without falling is extremely exciting and pushes me to keep climbing.”

Hawkins admits his personality makes him naturally climb just for the thrill of it, but for Zhu, on the other hand, it’s about accomplishing goals that seemed impossible to him at one point. Zhu said to him it’s never been just about the addrenaline.

“I’m not always chasing it, but i definitely appreciate it when it’s flowing through me,” Zhu said. “For me, adrenaline means I’m about to fall, or I’m in a dangerous situation. It definitely helps me climb, but I don’t actively chase after it.”

Zhu said he values the progress and accomplishments he has made through climbing.

“It’s this incredible feeling of success, this feeling that you’ve done something and accomplished something,” Zhu said. “It’s completely different than getting a good grade or finishing an assignment because hanging up there it’s something tangible you can hold.”

Click to enlarge and view in slideshow mode.

Photos by Jacob Brase and Tanner Pearson.